Among the northern tribes there is a legend passed down from generation to generation about shape-shifting Minders—guardians of the innocents—and how they came to be.
It is said that nowadays only a handful of Minders exist, hunted to near extinction by a fearsome beast. Of the remaining Minders, only one wears a garnet-studded collar, the symbol of protection and royalty.
Even when my aunt told me the story, and handed me an ancient garnet-studded band, I had no idea the tale applied to me.
After all, it’s only a legend…
A movement along the edge of the cliff caught my attention. A small rabbit nibbled at a tuft of clover growing between the rocks. I came to attention like a pointer. My nose began to quiver and my mouth water. I twitched my butt.
Without thought, I bolted out of the house after the rabbit. My blood raced and I breathed in short sharp pants. I could hear the creature’s heart pound and smell his warm vibrant flesh.
He took three frightened leaps and disappeared into the forest. I skidded to a stop, trembling so hard my teeth rattled. What’s wrong with me? I wanted to take a bite out of a poor defenseless little bunny. I pursed my lips and screwed up my face. Gross doesn’t begin to cover it.
This is way past PMSing. Tears welled up and spilled down my cheeks.
I turn eighteen tomorrow. Surely, there’s no connection.
A sharp wind blew off the water. My eyes closed. I stood perfectly still, except for the shudders that racked my achy body as fear and revulsion washed over me like the loud pounding waves below.
“Happy Birthday, Darling.”
“Aunt Gin, you’ve done too much already,” I scolded.
The bag felt soft and warm in my hand. Without thought, I clasped it to my chest and felt comfort, like holding a security blanket. I relaxed my grip and held it to the light. It looked old.
“Actually, it’s a gift from your mother.”
My eyes widened and I frowned in confusion. My heart tightened. Before I could reply, Mary came back with our drinks.
My aunt added sweetener to her steaming tea. “Open it,” she urged after Mary walked away.
I opened the drawstrings and shook the contents of the bag into my hand. An antique necklace glittered in my palm.
It appeared to be some sort of choker. The material was like nothing I’d ever seen, almost like stretchy soft leather glittering with fire opal dust, inlaid with oval garnets. I held it to the light. My eyes widened as prisms of color danced around the stones, breathtaking in their beauty.
As I examined it, I felt someone’s stare.
Drawn, I turned my head. My breath caught in my throat, my heart began to pound and my palm’s sweat. The buzz from the surrounding tables faded. People nearby became shadowy figures.
A golden glow bathed the room as I stared at the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. Thick, tawny, almost leonine hair capped his skull. His unusual amber eyes glowed like a cat’s. Skin stretched taut and smooth over high cheekbones. His lips made my mouth water.
My face must have reflected the same rapture I saw on his. Unfortunately, his gaze was on my necklace.
At the cliff’s edge, I stopped and listened to the steady lap of the waves against the rocks. I sucked cold air deep into my lungs. Night sounds surrounded me. A purr of contentment rose in my throat. I’m getting used to the purr. It’s a great way to express pleasure.
I pivoted toward the house and saw my aunt silhouetted in the window, the light at her back. I lifted my hand. She waved back.
The wind shifted. I smelled a rabbit. My butt twitched as the perfume of warm flesh filled my nostrils. His rapid heartbeat pulsed through my ears. I forgot all about Aunt and went bounding into the forest.
The rabbit saw me. With a frightened squeak, he hopped away, his little powder-puff tail white in the dark. I leapt after him and laughed with exuberance from the sheer joy of being alive.
The rabbit ran deep into the woods. I followed. Fear gave the bunny speed and he stayed just out of my grasp.
It happened gradually. My joints began to stiffen. The hair on the nape of my neck rose. A horrific scent filled my nostrils and made my stomach flop. No longer the hunter, at some point, I became the prey.
A heavy body crashed through the underbrush not far behind me.
My legs pumped and my heart pounded. Panicked, I pulled the mace out of my pocket.
Try as I might I couldn’t outrace whatever chased me. I swear I could feel hot breath on my back. As it closed the gap between us, it gave a piggish squeal of pleasure.
Sweat poured out my pores. My legs cramped. My sides on fire, I pushed myself harder.
A growl sounded behind me. It echoed and reechoed off the trees. Goose bumps roughened my skin. I glanced back. My heart moved up to my throat. My joints locked and made it almost impossible to run.
Still looking over my shoulder, I tumbled head first over a log. Rough bark scraped my shins. The can of mace rolled out of my hand. The scent of rotting wood and insects filled my nostrils as I landed on my elbow, my knees cocked at an awkward angle over the log.
I started to pull my legs back and scramble to my feet but I wasn’t fast enough. The beast’s hot breath penetrated my sweats, moments before his fangs pierced my thigh to the bone.
A scream filled the night. It took me a moment to realize it was mine.
Fire swirled through my blood. I swear I felt it bubble. My bones pushed hard against my skin. My vision blurred as muscle and tendons began to shift beneath my skin.
As the beast lumbered over the log after me, a wildcat shrieked nearby, his high-pitched snarl as terrifying as the monster that ripped my flesh.
The beast paused, his massive head swung in the direction of the feral sound. My heart pounded and stretched as if caught in a vise, but my vision cleared. What I saw filled me with abject terror. It was the stuff nightmares are made of. A black bear, no a huge wolf, with glowing crimson eyes, bore down on me.
A leonine scream of challenge echoed through the pines, bounced off rock and echoed in my ears. Fighting the pain coursing through my vibrating body, I forced my aching neck to turn.
The moon shown full on a beautiful puma, his lips drawn back, his tail lashing. He tilted his head and snarled. And the hits keep on a coming. Would I become beast fodder or puma silage? At the moment, I wasn’t in any condition to fight off either.
For one brief moment, the cat looked directly at me. My breath caught in my throat. Those eyes were eerily reminiscent of the stranger in the restaurant. The man called Kylar. Then the puma turned his attention to the beast. His ears back, he roared another challenge.
The beast threw back his head and responded, his mouth open he howled at the moon. The sound sent chills down my spine. A spine that felt like it was breaking and re-forming.
The puma screamed in response.
The beast turned from me and lumbered toward the puma. Even though the cat was large it was still half the size of the beast. They ran toward each other. The earth trembled as they clashed like titans their challenges ringing in the night.
I couldn’t concentrate on them any longer. My bones were stretching like rubber bands. It hurt like hell. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I bit my lips till they bled trying to keep from shrieking. Not wanting to draw the attention of the two wild animals fighting only yards away.
I crawled to the log and somehow got to my feet. Everything swirled around me. As my clothes fell off my pencil thin form, I stopped worrying about drawing attention to myself and began to screech. “What’s happening to me?”
Every inch of my body felt on fire as my joints exploded and my bones reformed. My cries turned to snarls. Sleek black fur sprouted through my skin.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” I tried to say, but a cat’s cry escaped my lips. Warm blood, from the monster’s bite, coated my hind leg, but it was a minor concern compared to what was happening to me. No legend. Aunt Gin knew.
Then the pain disappeared. A dull ache where the monster bit me persisted but other than that I felt glorious. I threw back my head and roared.
About the Author:
Multi-published author Sandra Cox writes Crossover YA, YA Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Time Travel Romance and Metaphysical Nonfiction. She lives in sunny North Carolina with her husband, a brood of critters and an occasional foster cat.